For the past three weeks, I have been fluctuating between emotional overwhelm, tears, concern, and desperation for a mental health break. There has been a shift within my four-year-old son … an upheaval from his normal temperament. While he has always been a fierce and passionate little life warrior, he has recently spiraled into literal emotional puddles on the ground, hitting in the face of his anger, stiff-arming his two-year-old brother, and flat-out telling me “I am not going to do that.”
While I know that these are signs of normal child development, the frequency and intensity in which these behaviors are occurring have left me questioning all things, especially myself as his mom. My narratives go a little something like this:
1) What have I done wrong? I mean surely I must be missing the mark on something … somewhere … somehow, otherwise he would not be struggling like he is.
2) What am I missing? Is something going on at school … Is he not getting enough sleep? … Am I not giving him enough attention and time?
I felt out of control, somewhat like a puppet on a string, as I chased my tail to figure out my son. I exasperated myself looking for solutions to his misbehavior and emotional outbursts. My fear and puzzlement put me in a parental haze, and in the fog, I lost sight of my son. I saw his behavior as something to fix, which by default made my child a problem to solve.
Despite my best intentions, my son and I entered this negative feedback loop. And the more I became invested in the outcome of “figuring him out” and “fixing his behavior”, the more he dug in, acted out, and power struggled.
As parents, we often write stories in our minds about who we are, if we are doing good enough and how it “should” be done. And we also write stories about who we think our kids are, who they “should” be, and about their behaviors.
I was so busy writing stories about what could be going on with my son, in what ways I may be failing, and projecting visions of what his future might look like if we don’t get through this, that I was missing what was right in front of me … the joy and wonder that is my son. I was so hyper-focused on “the problem” that it was sucking the pleasure out of parenting.
After pulling into the driveway after school one day, I sat there with the car in idle while my boys sat asleep in their car seats, and I lingered there. It felt sort of like a mini-vacation. I took a few breaths, and then I turned around to see my boys’ sleeping faces. It was there in my car - in the stillness - that I felt something reset inside of me.
Do you remember that feeling you got when you held your baby for the first time? That overwhelming honor that this beautifully packaged soul was yours? It felt kind of like that for me. And for the first time in a long time, I was able to see my son for the love that he is, even in the face of his challenging behavior. Slowly my guilt, worry, and frustration melted.
If our goal is not to control our child’s behavior then what do we do as parents?
From Fixing To Guiding Behavior
- Step one: Focus on where your power lies.
- Step two: Recognize the unmet need.
- Step three: Adapt the environment.
- Step four: Teach lacking skills.
Instead of changing my son, my intent became to help guide him. And that starts first with meeting him where he is right now. It doesn’t matter where he was last week or where he may be in 15 years, the only moment we truly have is the one we are standing in.